pa-01

PA-01: Fitzpatrick Moves from Toss Up to Lean Republican

In February, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dealt freshman GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) a small setback when it drew the Lansdale area into his Bucks County seat, making it one point less Republican. But Fitzpatrick may have received an even bigger gift when multi-millionaire attorney and philanthropist Scott Wallace won the Democratic primary in May. Wallace has the ability to self-fund but may have problems money can't solve.

This Bucks County seat is a true swing district: it voted for Hillary Clinton 49 percent to 47 percent in 2016. It's the kind of seat that should be atop Democrats' target list in a wave. But Bucks also has a strong local identity, and the Fitzpatrick family has succeeded in building a strong, moderate brand (Fitzpatrick was just endorsed by Gabby Giffords and the AFL-CIO). It's also the kind of place where Wallace's wealth, elite pedigree and out-of-state addresses could backfire.

Wallace is the grandson of former FDR Vice President Henry Wallace. He grew up in Bucks County, and his bio video notes he grew up "flipping burgers" there. But he hasn't lived there for decades, and until recently he was a registered lobbyist for non-profits who lived in Maryland. His Maryland homestead exemption claim and his ties to exclusive South African country clubs are ready-made for attack ads geared towards Bucks's parochial, blue-collar electorate.  

Until recently, Wallace ran his family philanthropy, the Wallace Global Fund, which lists $140 million in assets and supports environmental causes and women's reproductive rights. In a 2016 blog post entitled "Why I am a Patriotic Millionaire," Wallace explains that he split his time between the DC area and South Africa, where he fought corporate influence and nurtured a young democracy. In the post, he's pictured on an expedition to Antarctica. 

Plenty of DC Democrats have expressed excitement about Wallace's potential to spend whatever it takes to win, especially in the expensive Philadelphia market. In the primary, he loaned his campaign $2.5 million and crushed 32-year old Navy veteran Rachel Reddick on the airwaves, winning 57 percent to 36 percent. Reddick only raised $363,000 and was shunned by most party strategists, and Wallace attacked her for being a registered Republican in the past.

But Reddick might have made a much stronger general election nominee. Reddick had also only recently moved back to the district. However, her profile as a young, female JAG corps officer could have made her more difficult to attack as a carpetbagger (after all, Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, moved back from California to run for his brother's seat). And, her status as a former Republican might have made her more appealing beyond the Democratic base. 

Instead, Wallace's general election efforts have gotten off to a very rocky start. The day after the primary, the Forward published a piece documenting that the Wallace Global Fund gave $300,000 to groups supporting the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement against Israel. Wallace says he didn't control the expenditures and disavows BDS, but it took a month for one local Jewish Democratic group to reinstate its support for him.

On June 21, the Republican Jewish coalition began running a brutal ad attacking Wallace for owning "mansions in Maryland and South Africa" and "donating $300,000 to anti-Semitic organizations that promote boycotting Israel." The final tag line? "At home in South Africa, too radical for us." The ad forced Wallace to respond with an almost unheard-of June damage-control ad noting that he "lives in the house he was born in" and is a "strong supporter of Israel."

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick has had no problem winning allies. He's garnered support from unlikely places: his support for additional gun safety measures earned him former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords's endorsement, and the AFL-CIO just endorsed him over Wallace. Moreover, as the only suburban Philadelphia Republican who isn't retiring or resigning, Fitzpatrick is sure to be the GOP's top priority in the region and will have the resources to defend himself. 

In a year when other suburban Republicans are being lumped in with the Trump brand, Fitzpatrick is a genuine moderate with a good story to tell. He'll highlight his advocacy on behalf of Navy veteran Matt Bellina, a constituent who was diagnosed with ALS in 2014 at age 30, as the lead House sponsor of the Right to Try legislation signed into law earlier this year. He'll also benefit from residual goodwill towards his brother and predecessor, former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

A Monmouth University Poll taken in early June showed Fitzpatrick leading Wallace among all potential voters 49 percent to 42 percent, with a tighter contest among the most interested voters. Given the year and the new map, Fitzpatrick should be in more trouble. But even in waves, candidates still matter, and there's a wide path for Fitzpatrick and Republicans to disqualify Wallace as out of touch. The race moves from Toss Up to the Lean Republican column.